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GANGS & GUNS:
The Gang in Blue (and Black) Targets People of Color for "Gang Clothing"
In late April, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers held a workshop to help Portland business owners identify gang members (Portland Mercury, May 12). Included was a powerpoint presentation with "Photographs of black kids with orange baseball caps, bandanas, shoelaces, anything orange really," linking other colors and sporting gear to other "gangs." The overall message? If you're black and like a sports team or wear anything with color, you're probably in a gang.
For example, the July 11 Skanner reports on a letter PPB Chief Reese sent to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) in late June requesting they repeal the license for Seeznin's Bar and Grill. In the letter, Reese says Gang Enforcement Team officers did a walk-through of the business (at 1:02 AM) and noted ">everyone in the establishment was dressed in blue colored clothing." Owner Sam Thompson, an African-American man who grew up in Portland, "had painted his bar in the colors of his alma mater Grant High School -- blue and silver". He met with 18 police and OLCC officials in May, where their misconceptions about the bar were made clear. "It was me on my own and 18 people who hated me," he told the Skanner. After the meeting he repainted the bar beige "in an attempt to reverse the prevailing police view." Beige being a color PPB officers are probably more comfortable with, generally.
In the end, OLCC made a list of demands so strict that Thompson could not hope to comply. These included a dress code barring "athletic jerseys... torn or ragged clothing, casual sweat pants or track suits, headwear of any kind, or known biker or street gang attire, including colors" and closing the business by 11:30 PM. Thompson could no longer take the pressure and closed his business.
Gun Free Zone Committee Reports to Council
Mayor Adams' gun exclusion zones (PPR #52) went into effect in April. People convicted since then of gun crimes who are on probation or parole and found in the areas could be cited for trespassing. On August 10, the "Illegal Gun Ordinance Committee" reported to Council that of the first 13 people excluded, 8 are African American, one is Latino and one Asian American; only three are white. Although the report claims there is no disparate treatment, it ignores that just 23% of those affected are white in a 75% white city. Officers can now stop folks on suspicion of violating these zones; these stops are undoubtedly being used as pretexts, just like Illegal Drug Impact Areas and the Sit/Lie law (see IDIA article and Sit/Lie article).
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.